Do you need marketing qualifications to work in marketing?
Engineering, medicine, nursing, law, software development… there are many professions that require you to have a degree or qualification in that specific area if you want to pursue a career in it, and these can take many years of study before you’re officially qualified. However, the question of whether you need a particular degree or qualification to work in your chosen career is something that’s a little more complicated for some. This is especially true when it comes to a subject as broad as marketing.
As well as being complicated, the argument of whether you need to be formally qualified for particular professions is also a controversial one. Some, like the columnist and marketing professor Mark Ritson, are of the opinion that an ‘expert’ in marketing should be trained in marketing. However, many of the world’s most successful people, from Sir Richard Branson to Steve Jobs, achieved great things without degrees. They, and many others, have launched some of the most innovative products and campaigns with no formal training- just spades of originality and determination.
When it comes to ‘marketing’, the problem is that the term means different things to different people, thanks to the various roles that fall under that profession. As an example, take two individuals working in the same marketing department and ask them what they do – chances are their responsibilities and expertise will be very different. One could be a data centric analyst, while the other could be a graphic designer who creates logos and other creative materials. Ask them to switch roles for a day, and they would struggle to do so.
"Marketing also spans various channels, from more traditional printed posters and brochures, to digital billboards and online adverts." - Digital Pigeon
It is also moving more towards digital platforms, and what is meant by ‘marketing’ is something that is always changing and evolving.
To cut through the confusion, we examine whether it’s more valuable to gain a marketing qualification or hone your expertise through work experience…
The benefits of marketing degrees and qualifications
There are numerous marketing qualifications available to aspiring marketeers – but are they worth it? Additionally, if you do choose to get qualified, how can you ensure you choose the right one to pursue?
Unlike many vocations such as a lawyer or engineer, a degree in the relevant subject is not a necessary requirement. With this is mind, many will ask why marketing degrees exist and why so many enrol on them each year.
Marketing courses are certainly some of the more vocational options available. There is (of course) a need for research in marketing. However, it truly is an industry led discipline. Unlike many university subjects, those teaching the courses are not the typical academic. Instead, they are industry specialists who have had successful careers in marketing and have then gone on to research and teach. This is something that gives marketing students a totally different experience to those studying many other courses. Students get taught not by people who have just theorised over their discipline, but have also excelled in the roles that the student are hoping to go into.
A career in marketing is much like many other disciplines in the sense that the individual’s first job will be an entry level role which they will then progress from. What is an important aspect of a marketing degree is that it prepares them to take on more specialist roles focusing on areas such as branding paid media or SEO, or even more general roles more focused on strategy and management, such as a marketing manager or director. This is a huge benefit of being taught by those who have excelled within these roles.
Degrees and qualifications also prepare future marketers in more general ways. You certainly grow as a person as you undertake your degree. In becoming more critical, you learn to think in different ways and to approach problems from different angles. University also forces people to be more disciplined, perfecting time management and planning in order to meet deadlines.
Dr Sian Rees, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Media and Communications at Swansea University states that: "Marketing degrees form an important part of the professionalisation of the industry. By providing students with specific communications skills, as well as a critical academic view of the industry and its impact on society, these degree programmes equip the communications managers of the future to deliver highly professional marketing communications programmes and to understand how to manage and deliver those communications messages responsibly."
Jessica Ritchie, a Brand and Marketing Expert, says: "I have a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Marketing and HR. I've also had my own successful marketing and business consultancy company for the past 8 years, and for the past 12 years I've created or managed some of Australia's most recognised brands. These include Golden Circle, Tony Ferguson Weightloss, SupercheapAuto, BCF, Tourism & Events Queensland, Goldcross Cycles, Ray's Outdoors, and more.
"When hiring, I do look for people who have a degree in Marketing (or equivalent) as well as a blend of experience and 'street smarts.'
"Why do I prefer to hire and work with people who have a Marketing Degree? Because they have clearly invested a lot of money to pursue their passion and are serious about it. There's less chance that they will pursue the next 'shiny object' and they have amassed quality and considerable knowledge by diligently committing themselves to studying a qualification. I've seen a lot of people just use a 'fly by the pants' strategy and it creates unnecessary noise and clutter in a market where reputation is key. You need to be able to walk your walk and talk your talk."
Do you need to gain a formal qualification in marketing?
As we’ve already explained, earning a degree in marketing or a related subject (such as English, media, journalism or business) can be beneficial for those working in marketing. However, as the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Elon Musk show, qualifications aren’t always necessary for success. In fact, in many cases, going out into the working world and gaining experience is the best thing a person can do.
However Nicole Dickson, a marketing and public relations graduate that runs her own blog claims that "having a degree is not essential for carrying out day to day marketing tasks. Experience is far more important, yet in such a competitive field getting experience is not always easy. If you are new to an area or are someone who is not very well connected then a degree may be the only way that you can get your foot through the door and gain any experience". This certainly raises a valid point that must be considered.
There are countless benefits of completing work experience placements in place of studying, alongside your studies, or after you’ve completed your degree and are looking for permanent full-time work. It equips people for the ‘real’ world of work, giving them experience of working under pressure in a very in a different way to a degree, as well as conducting themselves professionally in a workplace setting.
Most vitally, though, is the fact that work experience enables you to put theory into practice, preparing you for those unexpected hiccups that studying cases from a textbox simply can’t prepare you for. By tackling these head on, people can learn from their successes and mistakes, enabling them to become better marketers. Although studying marketing theory is (of course) useful, it can be hard to apply this theory without to real life situations without gaining practical experience too.
Sarah Anderson a content and SEO specialist at boldSOCKS.com comments 'I received my marketing degree in 2015 and although I've had a wonderful career since then, I would recommend that students pursue degrees that will allow them to leave college with tangible skills, a more robust portfolio and a better grasp of the skillsets and talents they can offer a company. I feel that my degree filled my head with marketing theory that I have never used and brought about a desire to learn skills that I didn't learn in college. Getting my first job with a marketing degree was incredibly difficult for me. By luck, I met the owner of a magazine who let me sell advertising space. I was able to pitch to that company a job for myself where I could start to get my hands on content and marketing implement like writing, design and email creation. For the jobs I've had, a marketing degree was not as important as the skills, personality, motivation and experience I could bring to the company.'
It’s also important to remember that marketing, as a subject, is incredibly broad. A marketing role may focus more on the creative aspects, such as writing content or managing social media profiles. It could also be more analytical, requiring you to strategise and manage budgets. Alternatively, you can find a number of in-house roles that require a marketing assistant to do a bit of everything. By working in a real marketing team, individuals can learn about the different areas of marketing, giving them a better idea of the specific skills and expertise they want to develop further.
Additionally, although many marketing degrees are great for setting you up with the strategic skills for you to excel as a marketing manager or director, they don’t necessarily teach you how to get there. A marketing assistant or executive will undertake more practical tasks. These can vary from writing copy for promotional materials, to building online adverts. This is something that you don’t necessarily learn how to do from studying a degree; you learn how to complete these tasks well by actually doing them.
As a matter of fact, there’s a good reason why the need to gain practical experience is encouraged by many universities. Many marketing degrees offered by UK institutions are combined with professional placements. Just some examples of this include BSc (Hons) Business Management (Marketing) with a Professional Placement Year at Cardiff University, and BSc (Hons) Management with Marketing at the University of Bath. Alternatively, CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) qualifications are also popular because they enable marketeers to work and gain experience alongside studying flexible modules that result in a qualification.
Crystal Wong from Sky Blue Search shares the following experience of studying for her marketing degree: "I am an SEO consultant in Melbourne, Australia with a marketing degree. I found that my marketing degree was too broad and not very practical at all, even though it was known as the best marketing degree in Melbourne at the time."
Anne Miles, Managing Director at International Creative Services, says: "I've worked in the marketing industry for 35 years and I do not have a marketing degree. However, I am a Certified Practising Marketer through the Australian Marketing Institute.
"My experience over the years is that hiring a marketing student, or even a creative craft based student can make them inflexible about starting at the bottom. Many well educated students think they can come in to a business and jump in based on having their learning under their belt. What they don't realise is that those skills are only a fraction of the abilities needed to work in a professional environment, and sometimes they are less important. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all the other skills are more valuable, including knowing the culture of the industry, how to relate to other workers, how to fit in a hierarchy, how to move work through a pipeline, how to manage your own load and anticipate the time it takes to do something, how to manage clients, how to make decisions that are going to work and how to do what you're asked - on time and on budget.
"Universities don't teach how to be of service and go beyond the extra mile for a client either. It is more about a set of conventions. None of those things that I think make a great worker are taught in uni. This is very controversial in an era when everyone seems to demand qualifications, but I'd hire someone with natural talent, self taught skills that are clearly evident, and a fantastic attitude any day over a piece of paper."
As a middle ground, Blake Smith is a business major who is now a successful digital marketer. Blake says: "I feel my degree helped prepare me to think creatively and helped mold me as a person, but from an industry knowledge perspective I am completely self taught." This shows that a specific marketing degree is not essential, but a relevant degree certainly helps.
So, just how important are marketing qualifications?
In conclusion, if someone knows that marketing is what they want to do as a career, then achieving a practical and vocational degree that incorporates theory is a good option to get there. However, they also need to make sure that they are gaining as much experience as possible to really excel in the field.
Life as a student is certainly not a lavish one, but whilst they are still being paid to study, they should try to get any experience they can – even if it means working for free for a few weeks or months.